Monday, March 17, 2014

Hail Glorious St. Patrick!

Modern icon of St. Patrick
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation."

(Excerpt from the Lorica, or Breastplate, of St. Patrick)




On March 17th, in many places around the world, special celebrations take place. In the United States the city of Chicago dies its river green, while in New York Fifth Avenue is transformed into a parade ground over which thousands of people parade in front of thousands of other people. All the events purport to honor the memory of a man who lived in the 5th century. His name was Patrick (actually Patricius) and he is the patron saint of Ireland and of the Irish.
 
The story of Patrick is fairly well known. Born in what was still Roman Britain, he was kidnapped by Irish slave raiders while still a teenager and brought to then-pagan Ireland. There he was sold as a slave to a landowner who put him to work as a shepherd. After six years of slavery, during which Patrick spent much of his time in prayer, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship awaited that would take him home. Patrick followed the dream message and fled his slavery. He did find a ship and reached home.

After a short time at home Patrick again had a dream. In this dream he heard what he called the “voice of the Irish” calling to him to come back and bring them the Gospel. He again followed the dream message, became a priest and then a bishop and returned to Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Patrick was not the only missionary to the Irish, there were others as well, including some who were native Irish, but it is he who is remembered best.  His mission field appears to have been located between the north of the country and the midlands, while the south appears to have been evangelized by others.  Patrick is credited with some of the most high profile conversions among the Irish.  He is also credited with an elegant demonstration of the Holy Trinity, using the native three-lobed clover, called 'seamróg’, to demonstrate the doctrine of the Three in One.

Ruins of the monastery of Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Patrick’s contribution to art is not direct. He did not create any art that we know of and there are few images of him that are not very late and derivative. BUT, the impetus given by Patrick and the other Christian missionaries to art in Ireland is immeasurable. In the centuries following their conversion Irish artists created a unique merger of the old Celtic La Tène art forms with the narrative forms inherent in the late antique Christian images which came to them from the Continent. This fusion produced some of the most impressive works of the early middle ages.

This was a golden age for Ireland. The monasteries were filled with clerics studying both pagan and Christian literature and creating their own works from their thought. In addition to this they collected and set down the old pre-Christian legends of Ireland, which would have been lost given the turmoil that would beset that country in centuries to come. It has long been acknowledged that during the years of invasion that brought down the remains of the Roman Empire and the aftermath (called collectively the “Dark Ages”) it was the activities of the Irish monasteries that kept classical learning alive in Western Europe. Irish monks were missionaries to Dark Age Britain and Europe, returning to the Continent what they had received and taking it forward into the new medieval age.

Among the great works of art produced during this golden age were:

The insular style of manuscript painting, most famously the amazing Book of Kells1

Chi Rho from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
Fol. 34r
Image of Christ Enthroned from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
Fol. 32v





















Madonna and Child from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
Fol. 7v


The high crosses of Irish monasteries, such as those at Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice
Cross of the Scriptures (replica)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Here you can get an idea of the scale of the
high crosses.

Center image of Cross of the Scriptures (original)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
The original cross is now preserved indoors at the
Clonmacnoise Interpretive Center.























Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Central Image of Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth





























Amazingly intricate metalwork, including

Ardagh Chalice
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The chalice is much larger than the typical
chalice used for liturgy in later periods.
The Ardagh Chalice




Ardagh Chalice (detail)
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

















The Clonmacnoise Crozier
Crozier of Clonmacnoise
Irish, Late 11th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland


























The Cross of Cong.  This is probably the most complex and beautiful metal object produced in Ireland in the early middle ages.  It is also the climax of the style.  During the second half of the 12th century Ireland came more and more under English control and lost much of its unique and separate artistic identity.2
Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

Central section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The central crystal ornament once covered a
small fragment of the True Cross.


Detail of Cross of Cong showing details of
filigree work, casting, enameling and jewel setting
Additional detail of the Cross of Cong





























________________________
1.  The entire Book of Kells is available online at the Trinity College Digital Collections website at  http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
 2. On a small personal note -- It is interesting to me that two of the names inscribed on the cross belong to two people with my own last name:  Muiredach Ua Dubthaig (Muiredach O'Duffy) and Domnall mac Flannacain Ui Dubthaig (Donal mac Flanagan O'Duffy), both of whom were important churchmen.  The other inscribed names are those of the High King of Ireland, Turlough O'Conor, and of the craftsman who made it (probably the supervisor of the grouip that made it).  The inscription is in Latin and Irish and runs around the edges of the cross. 

© M. Duffy, 2012 and 2016

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